Every fall and winter, about 20,000 gray whales make a long journey from the Bering Sea and Alaska in the north to Baja California, in the south. California coast is a great place to observe this massive migration. The whales get so close to the shore that no boat ride is required to observe them. Migrating gray whales, dolphins and killer whales can be seen from mid-December through mid-April. There are also opportunities to see blue whales, humpbacks, and other whale species outside the migration season.
Every March, Fort Bragg holds a Whale Festival to mark large pods of gray whales passing down the coast. They pass the coast of Northern California in December–February and head back north in March–May.
Mendocino Coast is a premier whale-watching spot in California, offering many opportunities to observe these giant mammals every morning during migration season. There are plenty of whale-watching trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park and around Point Arena Lighthouse.
San Francisco witnesses hundreds of gray whales passing along the shore from January through April. Point Reyes in Marin County is the prime location to spot them. Humpback whale-watching season lasts from November through March. Tours to Farallon Islands are especially popular. Orcas, humpbacks, blue, and sperm whales are especially abundant there.
Monterey Bay enjoys two whale-watching seasons: mid-December to mid-April for gray whales, dolphins and killer whales, and mid-April through mid-December for humpback, blue whales, and killer whales. Visitors can observe them from the shore in Monterey Submarine Canyon and Santa Cruz that features whales off coast at any time of the year.
Channel Islands National Park offers premiere whales and dolphin watching in the Santa Barbara Channel. Twenty-nine species of sea mammals have been spotted here by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, including gray, blue, humpback whales, common, bottlenose, or Risso’s dolphins, and sea lions. Island Packers offers 3-hour tours year-round.
Los Angeles and Long Beach enjoy different types of whales passing along during different seasons. Gray whales can be spotted during winter and spring migration season. November–March is a good time to spot humpback and minke whales, dolphins and sea lions. Harbor Breeze Cruises depart from Long Beach harbor several times per day.
Orange County offers cruises out of Newport Harbor and Dana Point, that is home to large pods of whales, dolphins, and sea lions. Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching offers 2-hour tours all year. Newport Landing Whale Watching offers tours three times per day. On Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, Davey’s Locker provides whale-watching cruises several times per day. The underwater Newport Canyon is whales' favorite feeding ground. The best period is from December through April, though there is plenty to see here all year round.
Over 20,000 gray whales pass San Diego from mid-December to mid-March. Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma Peninsula is the most popular observation post. In January, as many as eight grays can be seen every hour. This month features "Whale Watch Weekend" programs with kids' activities and special educational presentations.